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Posts Tagged ‘musicals

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles”*…

 

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Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have forecasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat…

And he’d have had helpful hints– “How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks.”

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we focus on focusing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960, at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, a small Off-Broadway theater in New York City’s Greenwich Village, that The Fantasticks premiered.  A musical by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, based on the play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand (who wrote the rather better known Cyrano de Bergerac), it ran for a total of 42 years (until 2002) and 17,162 performances, making it the world’s longest-running musical.

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Original Off-Broadway cast album cover

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“Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it”*…

 

Psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Žižek has become potent public intellectual.  Variously called  “the Borat of philosophy,” “the Elvis of cultural theory,” and “the world’s hippest philosopher,” he’s published more than 50 books, countless articles, and starred in several documentaries. Indeed, there’s already a journal, The International Journal of Žižek Studies, devoted to his works.

As cultural theorists and critics go, Zižek is among the more accessible.  Still, he brings out the impenetrable in his followers; to wit, a typical quote from a book entitled (apparently un-ironically) Žižek: A Guide for the Perplexed: “Žižek finds the place for Lacan in Hegel by seeing the Real as the correlate of the self-division and self-doubling within phenomena.”

Žižek himself is a little more plain-spoken, as readers can see in this Dutch documentary…

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But it is as a film critic– indeed, a film fan– that (R)D invokes the Slavic Savant.  Žižek writes often about movies, and hosted a the three-part documentary series, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Joseph and Ralph).  The Pervert’s Guide places Zizek in original locations and replica sets of several classic films—David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, to name just a few.  Zizek’s scenes of commentary are edited with scenes from the films to give the impression that he is speaking from within the films themselves…  To what ends?  Well, readers can see for themselves in this clip on Vertigo:

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See the whole of Part One here.  And read more about The Pervert’s Guide at Open Culture.

* Marshall McLuhan

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As we move closer to the screen, we might spare a thought for Virginia Katherine McMath (whom we knew better by her stage name, Ginger Rogers); she died on this date in 1995.  Rogers worked in vaudeville, then on Broadway, and made over 70 films; but she is surely best remembered for the nine RKO musicals she made with Fred Astaire between 1933 and 1939.  Starting with Flying Down to Rio, and including Top Hat, Swing Time, and Shall We Dance, they revolutionized the Hollywood musical.  Astaire was a grateful fan; in an interview with Raymond Rohauer, curator at the New York Gallery of Modern Art, he said, “Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually she made things very fine for both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.”

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Written by LW

April 25, 2013 at 1:01 am

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